Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Arnie is already practicing sleeping off the Thanksgiving turkey on his special wild animal pillows. We will be next.

I wish all of you a very happy Thanksgiving, with much to be grateful for, blessings that abound. I thank all of you especially for enriching my life and giving me so much more back than I give to you.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tension and Stitch Length!

More information arrives from quilters who are dealing with new, electronic machines. Mercy recently explained her tweaking with the Bernina830 and silk thread, and she reports now that if the stitch length is set at "0," the thread tension on top gets very tight.

I have noticed on some Bernina 440's that when the BSR is used, the tension gets tighter than if a normal free motion foot is used, but of course can be adjusted down so a proper stitch is achieved.

Many things can affect the thread tension on top, even the humidity or color of thread. Dark threads may need a slightly different top tension than ecru, in the exact same thread.

In my first book, Guide to Machine Quilting, I suggested setting the stitch length to zero if you drop the feed dogs and free motion quilt. This was back in the Dark Ages when I used a mechanical machine, no brains, no sensors. Now I don't even think about doing that because my machine knows if I lower the feed dogs I don't NEED stitch length and allows them to rest comfortably in the basement, not moving at all. So I never touch that stitch length dial when the dogs are down.

On the Bernina 830 Mercy found that if she did use the zero stitch length the top tension became way too tight. If you own this machine, don't change the stitch length at all when the dogs are lowered.

All things are interconnected. Be aware.

Hope you are not slaving away too hard here in the US where we have our big Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. I am hoping to get in an hour or so of quilting today on some ideas I've had before I forget them, and take a break from cleaning and polishing, shopping for food, cooking.

Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Silk Thread on Bernina 830

Note:  Updated info I've received tells me that Bernina dealers/technicians are trained and  can help your 830 handle fine threads like #100 silk.  The newer machines have been updated as well.  If you have any issues at all, contact your technician. 

Machine quilting with YLI #100 silk thread is beautiful, exquisite. Sometimes though we have to adjust the machine to get the best result, and all machines get along with this thread a bit differently. Recently I heard from Mercy, one of my advanced students, at that she is the proud new owner of a Bernina 830, and has been trying to quilt with silk that was so successful in her other Berninas, as it is in all of mine (200, 730, and new 630).

After having problems, bad tension mostly, she and her technician and folks at the mother ship Bernina discovered some tips that will help you with this thread if you have this new machine. These tips might help you even if you have a different brand electronic machine with sensors.

Mercy wrote:

"First tip - the machine is soooo smart and the thread is soooo thin that for the most part it thinks there is no thread in the machine. Well, the machine is programmed to NOT sew if it is not threaded. If you reset the machine to allow it to sew without thread, then you lose all the other features like low bobbin warning, etc.

To resolve this, hold the thread tightly with your right hand as it leaves the spool and then thread the machine with your left hand. The little extra pressure is all you need for the thread to register on the sensors. Once registered, it will be fine until you need to rethread the machine.

Second tip - for silk and decorative threads it is critical to keep the machine well oiled. I usually clean and oil my 440 whenever I refill the bobbin thread. However, this machine's bobbin has a much larger capacity - more than double - and the silk is so thin you can sew for quite awhile before you run out of bobbin thread. You must stop and force yourself to do maintenance based on sewing TIME even if you do not need to replenish bobbin thread.

Third tip - the tension has to be PERFECT. If it is just a LITTLE bit off then the top will loop or eyelash just a bit every 5th or 6th stitch. If it is off by any more than just a little bit then the bobbin thread does not come up at all and the top thread breaks."

Thanks so much Mercy! I think this advice might work too with this machine and YLI Wonder Monofilament thread.

It is terrific when quilters send me vital information like this so I can share it here, and you can discover yourself what works best in your own machine and situation, and of course, always contact your dealer if you have problems or need advice. If any of you have more information, please share via the Comments.

Susan sent me the comment that there is a special/extra guide behine/under the white device that comes out to thread the machine. It's supposed to be used for fine or slippery threads to help the threading process. Bernina technicians know about this guide.

I agree about the maintenance based on time, rather than only when the bobbin thread runs out. I clean and oil the hook and bobbin area every day I quilt right at the beginning of my session. If I quilt steadily for 3 hours, I do it again.

Silk thread leaves a bit of a waxy debris in your machine so it is vital to clean it, and a bit of oil is also good. Check the top thread pathway as well, and swab out any sticky linty stuff that remains.

Run the machine, with no thread in it, quite slowly at first and perhaps more gunk will surface and you can swab that out gently with a cotton swab. Finally, run a clean dry swab over the metal parts in the bobbin/hook area to get any leftover oil, thread the machine, run it slowly and quilt with it on a sample to work out any leftover oil. I love this time as this is when I play and come up with exciting new ideas for designs.

Be very light handed and careful when cleaning/oiling your machine. Follow your technician's advice and check your owner's manual. My Berninas hum, and keep humming, and I take great care of them so that they do.

Keep quilting! It works out the oil.....and keeps your quilting zen going strong.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sparkle Spirals

Spirals with Sparkle, YLI #100 silk plus metallic = Sparkle thread. It gives a soft shine, little twinkles of light. Nice for upcoming holiday quilting.

The design, above, is on muslin and was done with a #80 Top Stitch needle and worked perfectly in my Benina 730, tension on top set at 2.50. The thread was ecru with gold metallic. Stitch length an estimated 1.6. Of course in free motion you make your own stitch length.

I wanted to give you a better sample than the one from the post yesterday, so here it is. I ended up playing at my machine all afternoon, and have some lovely new samples for classes.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day!

Monday, November 16, 2009


Sparkle! This is a new thread from YLI that combines my fave #100 silk thread with a strand of metallic, giving subtle specks of bling in your quilting. I like it so much better than metallic and it is a great new tool to add to your arsenal for that place in your quilting that just "needs something special."

I used it with my usual Microtex Sharp needle, a bit larger, a #70, but if it frays try a needle made for metallic thread. I also loosened my top tension a bit more than with plain #100 silk, and used YLI #100 silk thread in the bobbin. I had no problems at all quilting with it, just went a bit slower than I usually do on a speedy design like "Bouncing Bananas." It's fun watching something sort of boring turn into glamour right before your eyes.

Later I tried a #80 Topstitch needle and it worked better, no fraying at all. The thread fed through the machine easily and perfectly.

I mentioned it in my new listing of Tips on my web site today, so thought I would add more here. I haven't used this thread in a quilt yet but yes, even I, who never ever adds sparkly anything to my quilts, might consider this thread here and there. It comes in a variety of tones, cool silvery ones, and warm golden ones to a deep taupe with gold I used on the green fabric in the sample. Mud with Bling!! Hurray!

Try some quilting today in between "the other stuff" you have to do....experiment!

Keep quilting,

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Classes at Phat Quarters

Main Street in Galena, IL this week was beautiful, a step back in time but had shops and restaurants that were cutting edge, a nice contrast in old and new. I stayed at the beautiful DeSoto House Hotel, built in 1855, and that too was a step back in time. The rooms had very high ceilings and period decor, but yet were simple and comfy. I slept well, and left my cares at the door.

Classes at Phat Quarters Quilt Shop, just around the corner from the huge hotel, and across from the post office, the oldest functioning one in the country, went very well. It was a full house, students squeezed themselves in, but stayed cheerful and eager to learn some free motion skills. Beginners went from nervous to confident and at least to me seemed to have a good time and relax and enjoy machine quilting. I think everyone improved, and the results were very gratifying.

So much was covered in 2 1/2 days of class, and I think it's a great start to getting some of those stacks of quilt tops finished, by yourself, not by another quilter. With a few basic designs, knowledge to adjust the machine stitch so it looks perfect, having even, consistent stitches, and the right thread color and weight, success is right around the corner.

Jane, the owner, treated me one night to fabulous thin crust pizza at a little Italian restaurant down a few blocks from the hotel. It was heaven. I think I ummmmmed out loud there for a moment at my first bite!

There were quilters from out of the area who flew in for the classes and met some midwesterners on their turf. The weather was lovely, warm for November and no rain or snow. This little town is one of the prettiest historic locations, so if you plan on coming, take some time for the shops, historic tours, and restaurants, plus of course the great quilt shop.

I learned some new things from my students and demos that I did on the amazing Bernina 730, and hope to get some new samples made for future classes.

Below, the post office and behind it is where the quilt shop is, the back of my hotel to the right. The town is built on river bluffs, and you can see the very very steep steps carved into the rock hill that go straight up to High St. behind Main. No, I did not climb them! Below that, more photos of the DeSoto House Hotel. Many Civil War figures played their role in Galena's history and stayed at the hotel, including Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, and you can tour Ulysses S. Grant's home.

More tips on my website as soon as my old laptop can crank itself up, and more info on this blog soon. I have many new tips after working with students in class, fielding questions, and explaining things that I do in my quilting.
My best advice is to work on a real top. Try something not too huge for starters, perhaps a small lap quilt, baby quilt, large wall quilt so you don't feel overwhelmed. Then stabilize it with ditch quilting first, break it down into areas to be quilted, work from the outside in when possible, and do the smallest scale quilting last.
Don't jump around between techniques, but try and do the same styles of quilting and then switch to a different one. For example, quilt all the feathers, then add the pearls in the spines. Then do the backgrounds. This really helps build skill.
Take breaks. Re-boot that mental computer you are using, and don't think you are chained to that sewing machine. Machine quilting takes intense focus and concentration even if it looks very easy when you watch it being done.
Strive for quality, not just speed in machine quilting. Be careful with stops and starts and loose threads. Do your best. You will be happier and your quilt will show your effort.
Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Trip to Galena IL

I am packing and organizing, scheming and planning for my upcoming trip next Monday-Thursday at Phat Quarters Quilt Shop, in historic Galena, IL. I won't be blogging for awhile but soon I will be back to giving you some info and inspiration. Tips on my website will be posted when I return if I don't get to them this weekend.

Monday night is the lecture on "Quilting Designs" at the shop, and then classes the rest of the week.

If you are in my classes, make sure your machines are working well, as there is nothing, but nothing, that holds up a class more than machine issues.

If it's a brand new machine or if you are a bit fuzzy on your old friend of a machine please take some time this weekend to get really familiar with the basic things we'll be using: adjusting thread tension, threading it properly, using the BSR on a Bernina if you choose that, dropping feed dogs, winding and inserting the bobbin correctly, and just finding where these things are on your particular machine.

Machines do marvelous things for us but we have to take the time to learn where everything is amid all the electronics. Bring your owner's manual if you are unsure. Make some cheater post-it notes and stick them here and there with crucial information. Do a bit of quilting at home and make sure the machine is working ok, not skipping stitches, snarling, barking, whatever.

It's not necessary to bring a compass - I'll have some circle templates for you to use.

If you have any questions please email me:

The most important sewing machine accessory to bring? An open-toe free motion foot. Not the applique foot, but a foot made expressly for free motion and for your brand and model. This goes for all my upcoming classes. Remember, you can easily modify an existing closed-toe foot by cutting out the bar across the front, giving you great visibility for the kind of quilting we'll be doing.

We will learn and have some fun and you will fine tune your free motion skills.

See you in Galena,